White Rage

Carol Anderson’s White Rage is a systematic, chronological, walk through modern American history (post Civil War) of every step forward African American citizens have made in our country that has been summarily followed by at least a step, if not two, backward. She picks legal victories, legislative victories, social changes and describes all the ways in which major institutions like the government, presidents, Congress, schools and so on, do their best to keep African American citizens from succeeding. In creating her arguments, Anderson creates a compelling and, at once, familiar and shocking portrayal of American race relations. Although scholars like William Julius Wilson have argued that class is a more salient organizing force in the lives of African Americans than race, Anderson’s builds a strong, evidence based, case that race still matters a lot.

However, one disjointing factor of this book, that I’m still having a hard time reconciling is why it is called “White Rage,” which ostensibly ties these phenomenon to personal feeling while what is described within our more systemic power relations at the level of social institutions. This is the central confounding principle that, I believe, stunts our national conversations about race (is racism a personal belief harbored within people or is it better understood as a social dynamic about power and exploitation?). And Anderson, at least in this book, clearly sees it as the latter but the title betrays that it may be more about the former.